South Africa's government is urging Zimbabwe's main opposition party to continue peace negotiations with President Mugabe's government to find a lasting solution to the country's political and economic crisis. This comes after the Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) pulled out of this week's presidential run-off, saying there was no guarantee for a free vote with the ongoing violence. The MDC accused the ruling ZANU-PF party of using violence to intimidate opposition supporters ahead of the run-off in order to perpetuate Mugabe's 28-year rule. 

Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa, who is also the chairman of the Southern African Development Community, is also calling for an immediate postponement of the run-off to avert any catastrophe.

Some MDC partisans are reportedly disappointed the party pulled out of the run-off. Other observers, however, say the postponement is for the best.  Glen Mpani is the regional coordinator for the transitional justice program of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation in Cape Town, South Africa. He tells reporter Peter Clottey that the opposition took a bold step toward ensuring the ongoing violence is averted.

"I think it is important that the current prevalent situation in Zimbabwe comes to normalcy right now, and I think negotiation is the way forward. And I think the decision by the MDC to abandon the election is in the interest of the people to ensure that at least the contest that was causing the violence that has rocked the country in the last few months comes to a halt. So at least people can live their lives normally as was the situation in the last seven years ago before the contested elections in Zimbabwe," Mpani pointed out.

He said the stalled peace talks between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition, mediated by South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, would proceed.

"They will continue because we don't have any avenue. I think if you look at the situation now, even if they have pulled out of the election, I think there is an issue of a contested legitimacy. And I think ZANU-PF needs legitimacy and the only way that they can get legitimacy is to come up with a working arrangement with the opposition and civil society within Zimbabwe. And I think the only thing they can do is if they go through a negotiated process. But there is no way they can subvert going for an election in a long term or in the short term because they will need all of them to out who is the people's choice. Who do they want to govern within Zimbabwe? So, they have to go for an election ultimately," he said.

Mpani said President Robert Mugabe's administration would not heed calls by the Southern African Development Community to postpone the election over the ongoing violence.

"I don't think they (Mugabe and his ruling party) would do that because there is already bad blood between the SADC chairman (Zambia President Mwanawasa) and the president of Zimbabwe, where they have accused him (Mwanawasa) of being used by the west. So, I don't think the Zimbabwe government would do that. And I think ZANU-PF would ignore it because they have their own agenda and their own strategies about how they want to deal with the problem," Mpani noted.

He said the decision by the opposition to pull out of the run-off could help in finding a solution the country's crisis.

"But we hope, I think sooner or later, when I think the opposition have pulled out, I think ZANU-PF will not have any reason to maintain the intransigence. And I think ZANU-PF will sooner or later realize that because the opposition pulled out, there is no other way than to negotiate with the MDC to find a lasting solution to the ongoing violence," he said.

Mpani said he understands why some Zimbabweans are disappointed with the opposition's decision not to be part of the run-off.

"In any environment where decisions are made, where a lot of people have lost their lives and a lot of people have invested in the opportunity to say despite all odds they are going to go ahead and confront the regime, people would be bitter. But I think sooner or later, they would realize that it is a responsible decision that has been made because I think they had made that decision with the hope that they can be able to nudge the regime into negotiation. I think it is a very responsible decision," Mpani pointed out.